World Series Preview: Dodgers-Red Sox

They’re two of baseball’s proud franchises. Their home cities have a long history of antagonism from the NBA. They’ve often circled each other in October, with the possibility of a championship battle lurking. But the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers have never actually met in the World Series until this year, at least since the Dodgers moved west in 1958 (Boston and Brooklyn met in the 1916 Fall Classic). Here’s a few thoughts on the big market battle that starts tonight in Fenway Park…

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*Any conversation about a postseason matchup always begins with starting pitching and this looks as even as you can possibly get. Each team has four quality starters. Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Walker Buehler and Rich Hill for the Dodgers. Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Nathan Eovaldi for the Red Sox. Within each rotation are big-name pitchers who have to establish October reputations—or at least reverse negative ones. I’m looking at Kershaw, Price and Sale.

*Each team has a middle and setup relief crew that has caused headaches for the managers and the fan bases throughout the year. Dodger bullpen problems looked ready to torpedo their season in August and early September. The Red Sox relievers have never been one to inspire fear when the game gets to the sixth inning.

*Each team has a prolific offense that led its respective league in runs scored, with a good balance between drawing walks, hitting for average and hitting for power.

It’s how the offenses are constructed that are where the Red Sox and Dodgers start to diverge. If we look for players who are complete offensive threats—everything from patience to contact to power—Boston has more big-name weapons. I count Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi and Steve Pearce as being capable of taking over a short series and no one thinking twice about it. On the Los Angeles side, I have “only” Manny Machado, Max Muncy and Justin Turner in that elite category.

But before we give an offensive edge to the Red Sox, let’s look at the depth factor. Boston has a big hole in their batting order at catcher, the single biggest offensive weak link in this series. Beyond the stars, only Jackie Bradley Jr (the ALCS MVP) or Brock Holt (who hit for the cycle in Game 3 of the Division Series against the Yankees) are likely candidates to step up.

The Dodger lineup is marked by players who sit right on the cusp of stardom and could easily get hot at the right time. Cody Bellinger has already started to heat up, with his big NLCS hits in Game 4 and Game 7 getting him series MVP. Yasiel Puig hit a three-run homer that blew open the seventh game in Milwaukee that won the pennant. Yasmani Grandal is exceptionally productive for a catcher. Joc Pederson can hit for power. Kike Hernandez, Chris Taylor and Matt Kemp are each steady offensive threats and a surge in the World Series wouldn’t be a surprise.

The difference between Boston and Los Angeles on offense is more a question of what you prefer—a smaller number of the biggest bats or a deeper lineup. Clearly, Betts and Martinez have had the two best years of any players in this series and each is swinging the bat well right now. But that’s an awful lot of pressure to put on a couple guys in a short series where every pitching staff is being maxed out.

The Dodgers also posted their season-long hitting numbers in a home park that’s really built for pitchers, while the Red Sox are just the opposite. It’s for that reason I believe Los Angeles is more likely to have success at the plate in this World Series.

Finally, we come to the closers, Kenley Jansen for LA and Craig Kimbrel in Boston. Over the big picture of their careers, you can give Kimbrel a slight edge. But for this postseason right now, it’s not even close. As a Red Sox fan living in New England, there isn’t a single one of us that feels remotely confident when Kimbrel enters a game right now. He’s struggling with his control and has flirted with blowing games throughout the playoffs already. It defies logic to think that won’t catch up to him at some point.

Even though Las Vegas has priced the Red Sox as a (-125) favorite, the contrast in closers (Jansen coolly got the last eight outs of NLCS Game 7) makes the Dodgers who would I pick. On the 30th anniversary for their memorable 1988 title run with Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser, Los Angeles finally wins it all again in six games.